Hartlepool lifeboat get Royal seal of approval

The Princess Royal in Hartlepool on July 21, 1941, when she officially named the town's new lifeboat after herself. A dedication service was also held at St Hilda's Church to mark the event.
The Princess Royal in Hartlepool on July 21, 1941, when she officially named the town's new lifeboat after herself. A dedication service was also held at St Hilda's Church to mark the event.
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A wartime visitor to Hartlepool received a right Royal welcome in July 1941.

Hundreds of people gathered to watch as Princess Alice officially named the town’s newest lifeboat - the Watson class Royal Princess - after herself.

A Royal visit by Edward, Prince of Wales, to Hartlepool in 1930. He is pictured leaving St Hilda's Church.

A Royal visit by Edward, Prince of Wales, to Hartlepool in 1930. He is pictured leaving St Hilda's Church.

“The Princess very much appreciated the welcome given to her,” a lady-in-waiting later revealed in an official letter to Hartlepool councillors.

“It was a great pleasure to her to visit the Hartlepools and name the lifeboat which has been called after her.”

The lifeboat - which saved almost 100 lives in 29 years - had been presented to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution by the Civil Service Life-boat Fund.

It was delivered to Hartlepool in October 1939, and helped rescue the pilot of the first Spitfire shot down off the North East coast soon afterwards

It was a great pleasure to her to visit the Hartlepools and name the lifeboat which has been called after her.

A lady-in-waiting to Princess Alice.

“Flight Lieutenant Ryder had just brought down an enemy Heinkel 111, but the action resulted in him taking damage to his engine,” the Mail later reported.

“He was forced to ditch his Spitfire just off the coast, near Redcar, and the new Princess Royal lifeboat was called into action to assist in his rescue.”

Just a few years later, on January 26, 1942, Princess was called into action after the steamship SS Hawkwood ran aground near the Tees North Gare jetty.

“The lifeboat crew found the wreck lying in two parts, in water too shallow to approach. A gale was blowing, bringing fierce snow squalls,” reported the Mail.

The rescuers were forced to temporarily turn back but, later that day, Lieutenant William Bennison - coxswain of Princess - returned with his crew to try again.

Despite heavy waves crashing across the Princess, the lifeboat crew managed to take five men off the wreck. The remaining sailors were saved by rocket apparatus.

Bennison was awarded an RNLI gold medal – the VC for lifeboatmen – for his “plucky actions”, while motor mechanic Herbert Jefferson received a silver medal.

Princess Royal went to clock up a career spanning almost three decades, and saved 94 lives, before her service to Hartlepool ended on April 28, 1968.

The lifeboat was the sold into the private ownership of a family and, after being re-named La Rochelle, spent several years in South Wales.

But a campaign by volunteers supported by Hartlepool Headland Historical and Cultural Trust volunteers eventually saw the ship brought back to the town in 2000.

A restoration project was then launched and, five years later, the lifeboat was re-dedicated during a visit to Hartlepool by Princess Anne - the Princess Royal.

Today the Princess Royal lifeboat is berthed at Hartlepool’s marina.